The Path Forward via Partnerships and a Stewardship Ethic

A Reflection on the 2011 Annual Water Resources Summit
Donna Ayres
Authored by: Donna Ayres, Senior Advisor, The Horinko Group

November 10, 2011

The Horinko Group’s Water Division welcomed 116 people from government, business, NGOs, and academia to its Second Annual Water Resources Summit at the University of Maryland on October 25, 2011. Brendan McGinnis, Director of the Water Division, highlighted in his opening remarks the opportunity for all to engage in a continuing informed dialogue about one of our most challenging issues –the security of our common water future. The themes for the all-day event were rooted in collaboration and partnerships, calling attention to the critical importance of cooperation, transparency, inclusiveness, and action.

Three panels of esteemed representatives from government, advocacy groups, and the business sector celebrated success stories and shared lessons learned. They provided abundant examples, ideas, and answers to audience questions about how official and informal organizations are advancing a stewardship ethic related to water. Current and future efforts were examined that seek to produce significant innovations and progress toward a more sustainable water future. In addition, a luncheon keynote speaker introduced a way to view sustainability as doable and affordable.

Jeff Jacobs, a scholar with the National Research Council’s Water Science and Technology Board, led the first panel on Governance to canvass water laws, policies, funding, and decision-making issues relevant to water resources management today and tomorrow. Alex Dunn, Executive Director of the Association of Clean Water Administrators, highlighted the benefits of a watershed approach to bring water resources stakeholders together to initiate a life-cycle approach to water resources management. She provided several examples of effective watershed groups, such as the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. The federal role in water resources management, she said, should be to provide support, assistance, and partnerships.

Ann Mills, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, added examples of good stewardship and interagency partnerships underway at USDA, especially the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service, across the federal government, and with landowners and land managers that represent the ethic that, “if we take care of the land it will take care of us.” She noted the launching of the new Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Monitoring Framework, a partnership across federal agencies to evaluate and join the effectiveness of conservation measures for targeted watersheds.

Mike Shapiro, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection’s Office of Water, illustrated EPA’s many partnering efforts, including celebration of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a federal-state partnership for improving water quality. Governance structures, such as the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, are important to integrate watershed-scale efforts among public and private constituencies.

Steve Stockton, Director of Civil Works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, noted how groups such as the Western States Federal Assistance Support Team, co-located with the Western Governors Association, are improving our understanding about federal resource management programs and stimulating collaborative efforts to improve resource management. He noted as well how documents such as the new Civil Works Strategic Plan and the 2000 report on “Responding to National Water Resources Challenges” provide a guidepost for federal interagency initiatives to work with state and local partners in leveraging shared visions and resources to improve resource management. Additionally, the river basin commissions and comprehensive studies can make significant headway in this effort.

The second panel shifted the focus to Advocacy efforts of non-governmental organizations for beneficial water resources outcomes. Dr. Stephen Gasteyer, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University, led the panel, highlighting how America’s history of water advocacy represent attempts to leverage “financial capital,” “built capital,” and “political capital” within his own analytic framework of “Community Capitals.” A regulatory emphasis is giving way today to notions of responsible stewardship through coalitions, holistic approaches, and adaptive management practices.

Patrick McGinnis, The Horinko Group’s Water Resources Team Leader for the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Systems, described the many ways in which the Group’s Water Division is bringing people together to facilitate a continuing dialogue about sustainability, stewardship, and collaboration. THG is using social learning tools to join disparate groups and to connect them to ongoing efforts and new opportunities, i.e., connecting water resources decision-makers and practitioners through its salon series, free webinars, newsletter, and other on-line media.

Ben Grumbles, President of the Clean Water America Alliance, described how his organization is working to connect the public and private sectors through an enriched vision for water resources management that shifts the paradigm toward green technologies, expanding the scale of work toward watersheds, and celebrating innovation and initiative of local groups. Dick Engberg, Technical Director of the American Water Resources Association, provided an overview of the four Water Policy Dialogues that he helped AWRA organize to bring attention to critical water resources challenges. He noted that AWRA is collaborating with the Clean Water America Alliance for a webinar series on the emerging water issue of fracking.

Todd Ambs, President of the River Network, emphasized how capacity building of local water groups is contributing to the dialogue and actionable results. The collaborative efforts of governments at all levels with local watershed groups have enriched impacts. Social learning tools are further enhancing individual action, particularly about the energy-water nexus.

The third panel brought the Business of Water into the discussion. Tracy Mehan, Principal with The Cadmus Group, moderated a discussion about how technology sponsored by the private sector is making advances, especially for the benefit of municipal water resources.

Brent Fewell, VP of Environmental Compliance at United Water, noted how leadership in and out of government and public-private partnerships are working to recapitalize water infrastructure. The private sector brings financial resources, technology, and skills to the development and management of community water resources, especially wastewater infrastructure. Regional approaches, more innovation, and private investment are needed, he said.

A toolbox of several tools such as monthly rates, commercial and private activity bonds, State Revolving Funds, and perhaps a new water infrastructure finance and innovation authority to sponsor loans for large projects is what is needed claimed Tom Curtis, Legislative Director of the American Water Works Association.

Jon Freedman, Global Leader for Government Relations at General Electric Power & Water, described how GE seeks out thought leaders to advance water reuse and other technologies, stimulating research and development to make it easier for municipalities/communities to use new water treatment technology. GE strives to lead by example; setting and achieving targeted goals to reduce its own carbon footprint and water consumption.

George Hawkins, General Manager for DC Water, pointed out that it is the passion of professionals on the ground that is making strides, but innovation and technology are needed to increase worker capacity and overcome a crisis orientation. The private sector has much to offer the public sector in educating the public about new and better business practices for conservation and stewardship, he added.

Steven Hoffmann, Founder of WaterTech Capital Corporation, author of “Planet Water: Investing in the World’s Most Valuable Resource,” and consultant to Wall Street, stimulated thinking about how the private sector can promote better water resources management through a new economic model that he referred to as, “Ecological Economics.” It brings sustainability dead center into the equation, and not as an afterthought or add-on variable, but by seeking an optimal scale of impacts and setting deliberate priorities for sustainability based on an environmental ethic, individual responsibility, multi- and interdisciplinary approaches, and integration.

This line of thinking differs from typical models used in the past that are based on “Environmental Economics,” seeking a satisfactory monetary return on investment, while optimizing the allocation of the resource within a mono-disciplinary approach and cause-effect dynamics. “Ecological Economics” is better suited for promoting sustainability, claims Hoffman, and therefore provides a mechanism by which to answer the call for water stewardship.

This year’s Summit wrapped up with The Horinko Group’s Brendan McGinnis providing concluding remarks. In addition to recapping the day’s key messages, he provided an outline for a pathway to effective stewardship, marked by a collaborative spirit, hard work of dedicated professionals, infusion of public and private innovations and technologies, alignment of efforts, big thinking, and sufficient fiscal resources.

The 2011 Summit proceedings, program, presentations, and photo gallery, can now be downloaded at – 2011summit.thehorinkogroup.org.

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